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Peter Green

The British white-blues revival of the 60s was down to several genuine purveyors of the genre, none more so than gutsy guitarist, PETER GREEN (born Peter Allen Greenbaum, 29th October 1946, Bethnal Green, London). Although often reeling in the shadow of rival BLUESBREAKERS “god” ERIC CLAPTON (later of CREAM), fresh-faced renaissance blues outfit FLEETWOOD MAC gave star-billing to their mystical singer-songwriter/guitarist when forming in 1967. For three glorious years, PETER GREEN’S FLEETWOOD MAC (alongside drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, plus fellow guitarists Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan) took their brand of blues through post-psychedelic times and into the UK charts, but there was at least one acid casualty: PETER GREEN, whose irrational behaviour and religious overtones led to him leaving for other ventures.
Inspired by everyone from HANK MARVIN to B.B. KING, he’d come a long way since his teeth-cutting days in Peter B Looners (aka future CAMEL organist PETER BARDENS), a band who, after one solitary single, evolved into the Shotgun Express; they boasted a young ROD STEWART on vocals. GREEN’s tenure only lasted a few months, however, the guitarist subsequently replacing the aforementioned CLAPTON (and alongside John McVie) in JOHN MAYALL and the BLUESBREAKERS. Contributed two tracks (including `The Supernatural’), 1967’s “A Hard Road” was only a stepping stone before he was on the move again, almost immediately teaming up with his old MAYALL muckers to form FLEETWOOD MAC.
GREEN was the chief songwriter, his early ‘Mac compositions remaining among the most enduring of that act’s long and pockmarked career. Songs like `Black Magic Woman’ (later a hit for SANTANA), `Albatross, `Man Of The World’ and `Oh Well’, giving rise to a newfound resurgence in the blues. The guitarist’s spare, incredibly intuitive interpretation of the genre was almost unique for a skinny white kid; the latter two hits were all the more poignant for their portrayal of the man’s precarious emotional state. Like many great artists before him, it seemed that GREEN’s genius traversed a parallel borderline with mental fragmentation. Following a final howl at his demons – real or imagined – with the spine-chilling `The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)’, the guitarist left FLEETWOOD MAC in May 1970, and, in line with his new religious beliefs, stated his intention to give away all royalties to charity. While many rock stars have been flippantly written off as “acid casualties”, the devastating effect of LSD on GREEN was all too real and has been well documented over the years, one of the most tragic tales in rock that ultimately saw Peter alternating between the street and a mental home.
Following his departure from the “ever-Green” FLEETWOOD MAC (well, at least until 77’s “Rumours”), PETER GREEN deliberately distanced himself from the machinations of the music industry, refusing press interviews and becoming something of a recluse. He did release a lacklustre and rambling solo debut effort, THE END OF THE GAME {*3}, later in 1970. With the exception of `Hidden Depth’, this stodgy collection of post-HENDRIX-like blues jams gained little support from the critics or buying public and following a brief reunion with `Mac on an American tour, Peter went to ground.
Details of the subsequent six years were hazy to say the least, with rumours abounding as to GREEN’s activities and whereabouts (much like that of SYD BARRETT). It seems he gave away his guitar as well as growing his fingernails and beard, working in a kibbutz in Israel for a while, before taking up various menial jobs back in England (i.e. gravedigger, hospital porter, etc.), but little was heard of his low-key activities until… early in 1977, he was tragically committed to a mental hospital after allegedly returning an unwanted royalty cheque, with shotgun in hand, to his accountant. This signalled the beginning of GREEN’s intermittent periods of hospital treatment for psychiatric problems (schizophrenia), although he enjoyed a brief flurry of recording activity towards the turn of the decade.
In 1978, through his brother Michael, he signed a new solo contract with PVK Records (owned by producer Peter Vernon-Kell), surprisingly hitting the UK Top 40 with a couple of albums. The first of these, recorded in the autumn of ’77, IN THE SKIES (1979) {*7}, was a marked return to the GREEN of old – dreamy guitars and haunting atmospherics. Not yet comfortable with performing his “slow-hand” licks, future THIN LIZZY and PINK FLOYD axeman, SNOWY WHITE, takes centre stage, while there’s further augmentation from ROBIN TROWER drummer, Reg Isidore, bassist Kuma Harada and old mucker, PETER BARDENS. While more than half of the nine tracks were instrumentals (`Apostle’ and the 7-minute `Slabo Day’ the strongest), GREEN is cool personified on the excellent vocal piece, `A Fool No More’.
Funkier and verging on contemporary CLAPTON-meeting-AWB, LITTLE DREAMER (1980) {*5} drew in unwanted comparisons to his rival once again; an old ALBERT KING ditty, `Born Under A Bad Sign’, was a prime example.
WHATCHA GONNA DO? (1981) {*4} – his final effort for PVC – and WHITE SKY (1982) {*5} went almost unnoticed among all but Peter’s loyal rock fanbase, the latter authored by his brother Michael; check out `The Clown’, the LEMMY-esque `Born On The Wild Side’ and the ill-at-ease, `Indian Lover’.
After a final solo effort, KOLORS (1983) {*5} – again featuring Isidore and other sticksman Dave Mattacks of FAIRPORT CONVENTION, little was heard from GREEN bar the odd insensitive tabloid feature centring on his haggard, unkempt appearance; the guitarist seemingly having hit rock bottom, with rumours that he was sleeping rough in Richmond. Almost forgotten and swept under the carpet (until a belated release a year or two on), twilight supergroup KATMANDU were Peter’s next port of call. Twinned with vocalist/musician Ray Dorset (ex-MUNGO JERRY) and seasoned keyboardist Vincent Crane (ex-ATOMIC ROOSTER, etc.), plus “Kolors” player Jeff Whittaker, and rhythm section Len Surtees (ex-NASHVILLE TEENS) and Greg Terry-Short, A CASE FOR THE BLUES (1985) {*5} was aptly named. All but ELMORE JAMES’ `Dust My Broom’ and group composition, `Who’s That Knocking’, were penned individually by the group; `Strangers Blues’ the sole contribution from GREEN.
More positively, the musician made something of a comeback in ’97 with blues covers album project, PETER GREEN SPLINTER GROUP {*6}; apparently the first time he’d picked up a guitar in years, relearning many parts from scratch. PG even toured with the outfit (aka Nigel Watson and seasoned drummer COZY POWELL), playing to fans who’d literally waited a dozen years to see him again; one of those fans was veteran bluesman B.B. KING with whom GREEN subsequently enjoyed an onstage jam.
Two further blues tributes volumes, THE ROBERT JOHNSON SONGBOOK (1998) {*5} and HOT FOOT POWDER (2000) {*4}, found GREEN teaming up once again with long-time collaborator Nigel Watson, while paying charmingly indolent if heartfelt homage to one of his idols; squeezed somewhere in between these CDs was the “live at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club” double-disc, SOHO SESSION {*4} and DESTINY ROAD {*5}, both released in 1999.
For a man now in prolific mood, and who’d been in musical hibernation for some time, studio sets such as TIME TRADERS (2001) {*5} and REACHING THE COLD 100 (2003) {*6} were further testament to the man’s untapped reservoir of talent; the latter’s bonus tracks (including `Black Magic Woman’, `Green Manalishi’ and `Albatross’) bringing him full circle. Sadly, with medication to treat his psychological ailments taking its toll, GREEN subsequently went into retirement, only briefly coming out to perform the odd benefit or concert. It looks very unlikely that the great man will release another album.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD / rev-up MCS Dec2012

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